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A second person has died in Vermont flooding from Hurricane Beryl’s remnants, officials say

PLAINFIELD, Vt. — (AP) — A second person has died in Vermont in the flooding from Hurricane Beryl's remnants, officials said Thursday.

John Rice, 73, died when he drove his vehicle through a flooded street Thursday morning in Lyndonville, police Chief Jack Harris said. The floodwaters’ current swept the vehicle off the road and into a hayfield that was submerged under 10 feet (3.05 meters) of water.

Rice had ignored bystanders’ warnings to turn around, said Lt. Charles Winn of the Vermont State Police. Rice’s body was recovered several hours later after floodwaters receded.

Another man, identified as Dylan Kempton, 33, was riding an all-terrain vehicle late Wednesday when it was swept away by floodwaters in Peacham, Vermont State Police said in a statement. His body was recovered Thursday morning.

The remnants of Hurricane Beryl dumped heavy rain on Vermont, washing away much of an apartment building, knocking out bridges and cutting off towns, and retraumatizing a state still recovering from catastrophic floods that hit a year ago to the day.

More than 100 people were rescued by swift-water teams during the worst of the rainfall, which started Wednesday and continued into Thursday, officials said. In Plainfield, residents of a six-unit apartment building had mere minutes to evacuate before water destroyed it, the town's emergency management director said.

Stunned residents emerged Thursday to assess damage in a series of small towns along a hilly corridor on the Winooski River, connected mostly by U.S. Highway 2. Parts of the artery were closed, along with dozens of other roads. Shelters opened in several communities.

“It’s just mud everywhere,” said Art Edelstein, who assessed the destruction at a home he has owned for 50 years in Plainfield. “This is, in my impression, catastrophic. I’ve just never seen anything like this.”

The deluge dropped more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain on parts of Vermont, and the heaviest rainfall was in the same areas devastated on July 10, 2023, said Marlon Verasamy, of the National Weather Service in Burlington. Rivers had crested at virtually all locations by late Thursday afternoon.

“It’s not lost on any of us the irony of the flood falling on the one-year anniversary to the day when many towns were hit last year,” Gov. Phil Scott told reporters.

The towns hit hardest by Beryl's rains lie east of the capital, Montpelier, which flooded last year but escaped serious damage this week.

In Plainfield, a concrete bridge that collapsed and tumbled downstream was likely responsible for ripping off part of an apartment building with five units, said Michael Billingsley, the town's emergency management director.

The occupant of another home was pulled through a window to safety moments before it was swept downstream, and a mobile home floated away with four pets belonging to a family that narrowly escaped, he said.

Hilary Conant said she had to flee her apartment as the Great Brook rose, just as she did a year earlier.

“It’s like rewind to last year,” she said. “The water was coming up, so I knew it was time to leave with my dog. It’s very retraumatizing." A neighbor offered a camper. She and her dog, Casper, sheltered Thursday at Goddard College, which opened dorm rooms to displaced residents.

Around the corner from her home was the apartment building that collapsed. The front still stood, but the rest was wrecked or gone. “It’s otherworldly," she said. “It’s devastating.”

In small Moretown, the ruin appeared worse than a year ago, and the school was once again damaged, said Tom Martin, chair of the town board. Workers hoped to install a temporary bridge Thursday to restore the main road access to town.

“They say we’re ‘Vermont strong.’ We’ll get through it,” Martin said.

A police cruiser crashed down a 30-foot (9.1-meter) embankment Wednesday night when the officer tried to avoid a utility pole and power lines blocking the road in Monkton, south of Burlington. The officer was not seriously injured, state police said.

Beryl, blamed for at least nine U.S. deaths and 11 in the Caribbean, landed in Texas on Monday as a Category 1 hurricane and left millions in the Houston area without power. It then cut across the interior U.S. as a post-tropical cyclone that brought flooding and sometimes tornadoes from the Great Lakes to Canada and northern New England.

Six tornadoes hit western New York on Wednesday, damaging homes and barns and uprooting trees, the weather service said. Some areas of the state got 4 or more inches (10 or more centimeters) of rain, causing water to rush down streets in the village of Lowville.

Flash flooding also closed roads in several northern New Hampshire communities, including Monroe, Dalton, Lancaster and Littleton, where officials said 20 people were temporarily stranded at a Walmart store and crews made water rescues.

Resilience efforts appeared to pay off in Vermont. Flood control dams were “performing phenomenally” other than the breach of one dam with minimal impact to property or roads, said Jason Batchelder, state environmental commissioner.

But the damage — coming as some residents still await federal disaster-assistance checks from the floods a year ago — was still a bitter pill to swallow.

“It’s tough to watch folks in your community suffer and go through this again,” said Thom Lauzon, the mayor of hard-hit Barre.

Even though Vermont is not a coastal state, it has experience with tropical weather. Tropical Storm Irene dumped 11 inches (28 centimeters) of rain on parts of Vermont in 24 hours in 2011. The storm killed six in the state, washed homes off their foundations, and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles of highway.

In May, Vermont became the first state to enact a law requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a share of the damage caused by extreme weather fanned by climate change. Scott, a Republican, allowed the bill to become law without his signature, saying he was concerned about the costs of a grueling legal fight. But he acknowledged a need.

“Climate change is real,” Scott said Thursday. “I think we all need to come to grips with that regardless of your political persuasion and deal with it, because we need to build back stronger, safer and smarter.”

___

Associated Press writers David Sharp in Maine, Holly Ramer in New Hampshire, and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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